The final text message contained just three words: “Bear attack bad.”
Sent from a satellite device to family and rescue teams, it signalled that an autumn camping trip in Banff national park had gone terribly wrong.
Early on Saturday morning, a rescue team from Parks Canada arrived at the location and found two people and their dog had been killed – the first fatal encounter with a grizzly bear in the park in nearly half a century. In the days since, family members have identified the victims as Doug Inglis and Jenny Gusse, both 62. Their border collie was named Tris.
Inglis and Gusse met as students at the University of Alberta and worked together in a lab for Agriculture Canada in the prairie city of Lethbridge. But they shared a deep love of the outdoors, traversing the wild landscapes of Waterton and Banff national parks. Last week, the pair were on a weeklong trek near the Red Deer River valley, in the north-east section of Banff, when disaster struck.
Colin Inglis, Doug’s uncle, told the Canadian Press the couple had texted him at 4.52pm on Friday to say that they had been delayed but were at camp.
They likely ate dinner, ensured their food was hung a safe distance and retreated into their tent to read – a familiar routine.
Just a few hours later, Colin Inglis got a phone call from Garmin, the company that operates the satellite device used by the couple, telling him an SOS had been activated. They read him the message.
“‘Bear attack bad’ means bad things,” said Inglis. “Something is probably happening right then that is terrifying.”
Parks Canada also received an alert and immediately dispatched its wildlife human attack response team, an armed unit trained to handle worst-case scenarios. Poor weather conditions in the mountains prevented the team from using a helicopter. Under the cover of darkness, the team moved by foot through the valley. They arrived at the location of the distress call after midnight and found two people and their dog, dead.
As they scoured the area, the team was charged by a grizzly. The bear was shot and killed.
A subsequent necropsy revealed a bear at the tail end of her life, nearly 25 years old. Her teeth were in poor condition and her fat stores were lower than normal. The couple’s food cache was hung safely at a distance from their tent.
While the response team is trained in wildlife attack site investigation and forensics, Parks Canada says it won’t speculate on what caused the attack. “The incident happened in a remote wilderness location and there were no witnesses,” the agency said.
The couple, veterans of the Canadian hinterlands, were well-prepared for their weeklong trip.
“But bears are unpredictable,” said Colin Inglis. “This is a rogue bear. This is something unusual that has happened.”
The family believes the couple were inside their tent, likely reading, when the attack happened. Tris, their seven-year-old dog, would have been snuggled up next to them.
The Parks Canada team found the tent had been crushed with their e-readers inside. But the couple were found outside the tent; neither was wearing boots.
At least one canister of bear spray had been emptied and there was evidence they had tried to scare off the bear.
“There was a struggle, and the struggle didn’t stay in one place. But, in the end, both bodies were back together,” said Colin Inglis. “They were reconnected. That’s who they were. They were together in life, always.”